Recent workplace violence incidents in a Chicago suburb, in Kirkwood, Missouri, and in DeKalb, Illinois demonstrate the need for employers to set up an emergency plan for dealing with such episodes.
Iowa employers, and those throughout the nation, are urged to take measures to prevent violence, and to train employees and managers in how to respond to violent incidents.
In Kirkwood, Missouri, a man opened fire at a city council meeting on February 7, killing 3 city officials and 2 police officers and injuring the mayor. The man was known as a political activist who had been forcibly ejected from two past council meetings.
The most notorious incident was shooting on Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb, Illinois. Steven Kazmierczak, a former NIU graduate student who had recently transferred to the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, killed 6 and injured 16 before turning the gun on himself.
Kazmierczak was described by professors as an award-winning student, committed and calm, who had been actively pursuing studies in Criminal Justice. He was enrolled at the time of the shooting in a graduate degree program in social work. The young man had purchased 2 guns for “home security,” said his girlfriend, Jessica Baty. He had been irritable and stressed because of his studies, she said, but was not acting erratically. He had stopped taking his medication about 3 weeks before the episode.
A Lane Bryant women’s apparel shop in a mall in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park was the site of a tragic robbery and shooting on February 2. An armed man killed 5 women after binding a total of 6 victims with duct tape in a back room. The man had entered the store pretending to be making a delivery. When the manager attempted to call 911 the robber became enraged and killed 5 of the women. Two of them were customers who had come in during the robbery.
Violent workplace incidents occurred in 2007 as well. One, in Alexandria, Louisiana, left 2 victims dead and 3 injured before police killed the gunman. The incident took place in a downtown legal office.
More Workplace Violence
The massacre at Virginia Tech was the worst case of workplace violence in 2007.
It was not the only incident, however, and tragic episodes in Illinois and Missouri are simply the most recent cases of violence in the workplace.
Several other episodes led to tragedy or near-tragedy in 2007.
At an Orlando Denny’s during Labor Day weekend of 2007, a 40-year-old waitress was stabbed to death by her estranged husband. Several families who had recently left Walt Disney World saw the attack at the restaurant on International Drive. Coworkers and customers both pursued the attacker, who fled on foot and escaped over a fence, leaving behind one of his shoes. Paramedics tried to save the waitress, but she died of her wounds.
A tragic event in September on the campus of Delaware State University left two students shot dead. Dover, Delaware police interviewed a student following the early morning shooting outside a college dining hall. University officials put the school on lockdown, and the campus’s roughly 1,700 students were confined to their dormitories. Word of the incident and the lockdown went out on cell phones. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as other law enforcement agencies, assisted local police in the search.
At the University of Wisconsin Madison, police hunted for an apparently suicidal man who threatened to explode a bomb at a local hospital and fired off some shots near it. The bomb threat was a fake, police said, adding that the man was a case of attempted “suicide by cop.” He had apparently hoped to provoke a shoot-out with police in which he would have been killed, officers said.
At Virginia Tech 32 students and staff were killed and 17 injured in the year’s worst tragedy, on April 16, 2007. A heavily armed assailant named Seung-Hui Cho chained the doors of a campus building shut before killing and wounding his victims, then turning his weapon on himself.
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Cho demonstrated several warning signs of impending workplace violence. Among other things, he showed an unhealthy interest in weapons.
Iowa employers need to be aware that the NDAA law went into effect immediately and the U. S. Department of Labor is scrambling to finalize regulations for this new policy, which will be submitted to the White House for approval.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2008 was signed into law on January 28, 2008 by President George W. Bush. Within the NDAA is a provision to expand the FMLA (Family Medical and Leave Act) to provide up to 26 weeks for spouses and relatives of National Guard and Reserve personnel who are called to active duty.
Until regulations are published by the Secretary of Labor, companies should utilize FMLA procedures, such as medical certification and substitution of paid time, to grant leave for family members to care for injured soldiers.
Understanding Iowa FMLA and NDAA
When an Iowa employee takes time off for the birth of a child, to adopt a child, or to place a newly fostered child (under age 18) in their home, that worker can charge the time to FMLA (Family Medical and Leave Act) leave. FMLA also provides time off to care for a sick child, parent or spouse.
Currently, FMLA leave is job-protected, but unpaid.
If democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton is elected, however, FMLA could be amended such that FMLA leave is paid. The plan would be mandatory and require companies to take out insurance on each worker to provide the paid FMLA leave.
If the FMLA is amended, employers will incur even greater costs than they currently bear. Though the leave is now unpaid, companies must maintain its share of benefit and healthcare costs. Plus, the business has to temporarily fill the worker’s position, which could mean the expense of hiring and training new personnel. Productivity levels can also be a cost to the employer, because returning employees often take weeks to get back to their prior performance levels.
In addition, employees are not required to take FMLA time all at one time, but can do so intermittently without giving advance notice.
Some states have already enacted laws at the state level to extend FMLA. Some states simply provide more than 12 weeks of leave. In Hawaii, the law includes caring for grandparents, in-laws and domestic partners. For many California employees the state laws already allow them to receive pay for FMLA leave.
FMLA does not apply to all companies and workers. To be eligible, employees must work at least 1,250 hours for the same company for 12 consecutive months. Eligible companies must have 50 employees within a 75 mile radius.
FMLA guarantees the employee a job when he or she returns to work. This job can either be the same position, or a job with a comparable salary and similar benefits and working conditions.
The expanded FMLA increases the current 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to 26 weeks for military families. Spouses, daughters, sons and parents can take this leave to care for a member of the National Guard, Reserve or active military who is undergoing physical or mental therapy, outpatient treatments or recuperating from illness. In addition, FMLA leave can be granted to care for soldiers on temporary disability due to illness or injury.
The FMLA expansion of the NDAA also includes the addition of “next of kin” as eligible persons to take leave. This means that aunts, uncles, cousins or in-laws to take unpaid FMLA leave.
In addition to caring for an injured soldier, FMLA allows a spouse, son, daughter or parent to take leave when a soldier is informed of imminent deployment. This leave would allow families of deployed military to stand in for that soldier while he or she is on active duty, to care for anyone in that soldier’s care. This provision of the FMLA will most likely be used to care for healthy children, but can also be used to care for an ill family member.
It’s important that employers order their 2008 Iowa labor law posters soon. Both state and federal law require that the updated posters be displayed.
This is even more critical for Iowa employers, where the state’s minimum wage will increase on January 1, 2008 – making all existing labor law posters obsolete.
During 2007 many changes occurred to labor laws across the nation. As 2007 comes to an end, employers will need to update their labor law posters. Iowa employers are affected by these changes, and need to be aware of them.
Under state law, the officially required 2008 Iowa labor law posters are:
- Minimum Wage Law
- OSHA – Health and Safety Health Protection
- Discrimination Notice
- Unemployment Insurance
- Workers’ Insurance
By law every Iowa employer is required to display these posters.
In addition, under federal law, employers must display these posters:
- Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law
- USERRA – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
- Federal Minimum Wage
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- Family and Medical Leave Act
- OSHA-Job Safety & Health Protection
Both state and federal law require that every employer prominently display the posters in an area where they can be seen by every employee. Popular locations are a bulletin board, near the time clock or in the break room.
The most common reason for employers to update posters includes statute changes, especially to minimum wage laws. In just the past few months, employers in New Hampshire, Nevada and Maine have updated their labor law posters as the state minimum wages changed. The most recent increase was on October 1, 2007 when the New Hampshire minimum wage increased to $6.50 per hour.
A number of states across the country enacted an increase to their state minimum wage during 2007. Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah are among them.
Minimum wage wasn’t the only law that changed during 2007. Two states established new no-smoking bans. Illinois’s new law banned smoking in almost every work environment, including casinos, restaurants and bars. In Ohio, a tough new ban on smoking at work was also enacted. Businesses were then required to post new no-smoking signs at all entrances.
All of the changes that occurred during 2007, and those slated to occur in 2008 will require employers to update their labor law posters. If the posters are not updated, the employer could be fined.
A large number of changes over the year influenced the poster requirements. The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 increased the federal minimum wage for the first time in close to a decade. Seventy cents was added to $5.15 to raise the minimum to $5.85 per hour. A number of states that connect their minimum wages to the federal minimum raised their minimum wages on that day, too.
On July 24, 2008, the federal minimum wage will go up again time from $5.85 to $6.55 per hour. Again, the states that bump their minimum wage when the federal rate rises, will increase their minimum wage rates on that day.
More than a dozen states will increase their minimum wages on January 1, 2008. These include Delaware, Oregon, Washington, California, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Vermont, Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Montana and Ohio. The lowest rate to be increased is in Montana, where the state minimum wage will increase from $6.15 per hour to $6.25. In Missouri and New Mexico, the state rate will go to $6.50.
Every one of these changes to the minimum wage requires that employers update their labor law posters. Employers who fail to do so can face a variety of fines and penalties, from agencies such as the U.S. Department of Labor, the EEOC and OSHA.
Both employers and employees should be aware of how vital education is when it comes to Iowa worker safety. No employee wants to be injured on the job. No employer wants to have employees hurt. In many cases, workplace injuries result in missed time, lost wages, lawsuits, and medical bills. Even though both employers and employees may want to prevent accidents, injuries sustained at work certainly aren’t rare.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains that the U.S. Occupational and Heath Administration, also know as OSHA, is involved in millions of injury investigations around the country each year. The last full year for which statistics are available is 2005. In that year, a total of 4,214,200 accidents in the workplace occurred. Due to these accidents, workers lost a total of 1, 234,700 work days. Sadly, 5,702 employees died as a result of workplace accidents that year.
These numbers don’t tell the whole story since they only include accident information from the private sector. Figures for employees of non-profits organizations along with government employees, such as firefighters, police, and paramedics are not included.
Some of the injuries encountered include strains, sprains and tears, which affected 503,530 workers. Also workers experienced 270,890 back injuries, and 255,750 employees fell at their workplace.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as OSHA, tracks the Iowa worker safety figures, as well as those from around the nation. Although many people may not realize it, fatalities due to trips, falls, and slips in the workplace can result in death. Sadly, 732 people died in 2005 after experiencing a fall at their job. Only driving accidents involving employees resulted in more fatalities, with the total for 2005 being 1,258.
Iowa worker safety posters can help prevent accidents. One way employers can help reduce and prevent accidents is through employee education. To help with this effort, OSHA produces a Workplace Safety Pack that includes information on preventing injuries in the workplace. Employers will find the following items in the Workplace Safety Pack:
Slips, Trips, and Falls Poster
Workstation Safety Tips Poster
The Workplace Ergonomics
Lifting Safely Poster
In its safety magazine, distributed state wide, the Iowa OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recently published an article that warns of the dangers that could develop when forklift loading and operations are conducted without regard to state and federal guidelines for such machinery.
One of the main Iowa worker safety concerns is the matter of the machine’s center of gravity. Forklifts with a 24” load center are stable, and safest, when loaded so the weight of the load falls no higher than 24” from the two forks and no further forward than 24” from the base of the forks. Machinery with 36” and 48” load centers are most stable when loaded according to these same factors with 36” and 48” being the key numbers to consider.
Forklifts loaded off center, with the bulk of the weight to either side or too far forward from the base of the forks, are the most dangerous to the operator and other workers in the vicinity. All manufacturers of these machines equip them with data plates that provide loading specifications for every machine purchased.
Load capacity is also a potential problem. When a load weighs more than specifications dictate, the machine becomes risky to workers but even a small load, considerably under the maximum allowed weight, can become life threatening when loaded off the center of gravity described above.
Sometimes modifications to the forklift are necessary on a job site. Drum carriers, rotators, and grippers may need to be adjusted or added to the machine to improve performance. Other modifications may include attaching boom extensions, cylinder caddies, hoppers, rug rams, and boom extensions.
Any time a forklift is modified, written advance authorization from the manufacturer is required. Once modifications are approved, the manufacturer will provide a data plate reflecting these changes. The new data plate must be attached to the machine, replacing the original factory-issued plate.
In cases where the manufacturer denies modifications, a business owner can employ the services of a Registered Professional Engineer (RPE) who is qualified to authorize safety and structural modifications but only after a thorough review of the issues that led to the manufacturer’s denial of the modification request.